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MIDDLE EAST: Eid al Adha animal slaughter sparks debate in Muslim world

November 17, 2010 | 10:38 am

Sacrifice in Kuwait - Eid Nov 2010 Animal rights activists are speaking out against the treatment of millions of animals that will be killed and eaten during the Eid al Adha holiday, as suppliers and butchers are accused of ignoring religious edicts on humane slaughter.

On Friday, an Australian animal rights group reiterated its call for the Australian government to stop the sale of livestock to the Middle East after activists documented sheep in Kuwait and Bahrain allegedly being subjected to brutal treatment.

Australia is one of the largest exporters of livestock to the region, with trade totaling $297 million in 2009, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The group has already succeeded in banning livestock export to Egypt.

"In the same way that Christmas has become the peak time of animal suffering in the West with vast numbers of factory farmed animals slaughtered for Christmas celebrations, the Festival of Sacrifice is the worst time of animal suffering throughout the Middle East," the Animals Australia campaign homepage read.

A recent report in the Egyptian newspaper the Daily News featured butchers who admitted to ignoring Islamic hilal methods of slaughter in order to meet the high demand for meat. 

"Islam has put regulations for the slaughtering process ensuring that the animal is well treated before, during and after slaughtering and those who defy these rules are punished," Sheik Saber Taalab, former member of the Islamic Research Center in Cairo, told the paper.

Eid al Adha commemorates the old testament story of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, for God. According to the story, Isaac was saved when God saw Abraham's faith and gave him a ram to sacrifice in place of his son.

Muslims around the world honor Abraham by slaughtering livestock, mostly sheep, and distributing the meat to the poor or cooking it and sharing the meal with family and friends.

Traditionally, many families choose to slaughter the animal themselves rather than buy meat from a butcher, and the smell and sight of blood fill the streets of many towns and cities. While these scenes make dramatic visuals for animal rights groups, defenders of the practice maintain that if done properly, traditional slaughter is a relatively humane way to kill an animal.

In some places, the debate over Eid al Adha is controversial for different reasons.

The sight of sheep's blood running through the streets of Istanbul is a vivid reminder of Turkey's ongoing struggle to balance its secular and Muslim identities and allay the underlying class tensions.

"The age-old tradition ... has become controversial in Turkey as conservative immigrants from rural Anatolia have migrated to Istanbul and other large cities, where it is neither easy nor welcome to slaughter an animal in the street," wrote Mustafa Akyol for the Hurriyet Daily News. "Doing so creates 'disturbing scenes' according to some urban Turks, and Turkish media outlets that have been complaining about encountering animals, and their bloody remains, in unexpected parts of the city."

--Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Activists from Animals Australia took photos of animals they say are being improperly transported and killed in Bahrain for the Eid al Adha holiday. Credit: Animals Australia

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